Bob Dylan Sings “Gotta Serve Somebody”

Gotta_Serve_Somebody_coverListen to this track by gospel music fan and one-time “topical” singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, who recently had another birthday; he’s 74! It’s “Gotta Serve Somebody”, his 1979 hit single that would represent the last time to date he’d have a song in the top 40. This one reached #24 on the Billboard 100 upon its release in August of 1979.

The song was also featured on his new record, Slow Train Coming, a work that reflected his philosophical shift toward evangelical Christianity. It was the beginning of the Gospel Bob period! As such, it was something of a controversial release, with many of the songs on the album taking on a strident and spiritually polemical tone, tinged with a religiosity that seemed to be antithetical to the rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic. Dylan had always been something of a mercurial figure who seemed committed to undercutting expectations at every turn. But, even the session musicians who played on this track, and producer Jerry Wexler, were taken aback by Dylan’s new worldview. It was something of a surprise to Dylan’s peers, too. John Lennon of course wrote “Serve Yourself” in direct response to this tune. Many fans held the same point of view as Lennon on Bob’s gospel trip.

Yet, with this song that won him a Grammy for Best Male Vocal that year, there are elements here that had been a part of Dylan’s songwriting style all along, even celebrated in his earliest work. Read more

Bob Dylan With The Plugz Play “Jokerman” On Letterman

Bob Dylan and the PlugzListen to this track by mercurial singer-songwriter who likes a good jam as much as the next guy, Bob Dylan. It’s “Jokerman” a cut that is featured on his 1983 record Infidels.  On that album, the song is presented in a tasteful reggae-seasoned arrangement. But, Bob being Bob, when it came time to play it on David Letterman in March of 1984, he had other ideas.

Bob was living in Malibu around this time, and still very interested in exploring some musical alchemy with local musicians. I imagine the ride he’d been trying to get off since his early days as a would-be folk-rock messiah had a lot to do with that, trying to stretch himself as a player and a performer as the times were beginning to do some a-changin’ as the eighties began in earnest. Among some of the attendees at Bob’s house jams during this period was bassist Tony Marsico and drummer Charlie Quintana of the L.A punk band The Plugz, the first recognized Latino punk band active in a field of mostly white groups on that scene, and who in fact had gone indie during a time when that wasn’t really a thing yet, forming their own record label.  The alchemy Bob sought must have become adequately manifest by their gumption, but also their playing.

In short order along with punkily-monikered guitarist Justin Jesting (aka J.J Holiday) , they were to be Dylan’s backing group on the Letterman appearance. The performance would be both a triumph and a tragedy in equal measure. Read more

Bob Dylan Sings “The Man In Me”

Bob Dylan New MorningListen to this track by one-time Woodstock New York homeowner, family man, and singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. It’s “Man In Me”, a cut as taken from his 1970 album New Morning. 

This record was something of a comeback record for Dylan, who had released two rather unexpected albums previous to its release. The first was Nashville Skyline, which was a collection of short country songs sung in a voice that very few immediately recognized as Dylan the singer. And then he released Self Portrait, an album that few would recognize as coming from Dylan the songwriter.

But all the while, Dylan had other things on his mind. One was trying to figure out how to stop being Bob Dylan as other people understood him. And this song would be one his most revealing to date on this score.  Read more

Who Is The Next Bob Dylan?: 10 Songwriters Once Voted Most Likely

Bob Dylan
photo: Simon Murphy

From the mid-60s and into the 1970s especially, a new trend in music journalism ramped up into high gear. It was the only one that would rival the whole “will the Beatles get back together?” question that helped to mark those times. That question was: who is the next Bob Dylan?

During the course of his career Bob Dylan took a lot of risks; going electric, changing his voice from time to time, quitting the touring treadmill for almost a decade, and making records that people didn’t expect him to make. And he’s still doing it today – Christmas In The Heart, anyone? That most of these risks tended to pay off was beside the point.

But, during the eighteen months that everyone had to wait as Bob recovered from his motorcycle accident in late 1966, maybe the label, the fans, and the press perhaps realized that putting all their eggs in one basket was the riskiest move of all. As a result, a lot of performers would be tagged with the whole “Next Dylan” or “New Bob Dylan” labels, despite the fact that Dylan himself was still very much in his prime.

Maybe this was because it was just a safer bet to hang one’s hopes on a new artist just starting out, than on one who continually made himself a moving target. In some respects, the comparisons were meant to be complimentary to these new artists. But, as some of these artists evolved, audiences began to see that they weren’t the next anyone, other than themselves – original voices. This is how it should be.

But, who were these artists? Well,  here’s a selection of 10 who are standouts for me in the Who Is The Next Bob Dylan? stakes. Some are big names, as big as Dylan is by now. Others can be called ‘cult artists’, albeit ones with respectable back catalogues of their own. So, judge for yourself to see whether or not the Next Dylan tag applies to any or all of them. And decide too whether or not the passage of time makes the comparison a fair one, or completely absurd. Read more

Searching For Bob Dylan – In Lethbridge Alberta

And the tour continues! Bob Dylan has a new record coming out in the next few days, on September 11, 2012, which is an anniversary of sorts on more than one front. He released his celebrated latter-day gem Love & Theft on that same date eleven years ago. And on that day, North America and the world changed forever, although not because of Dylan’s record.

And since then, Dylan has continued the tour that began in the late 1980s, a string of dates that has often sent the grizzled troubadour into some off-the-rock-promotor’s-map locations. Our roving reporter Geoff Moore was at one of those shows recently in the other L.A, Lethbridge Alberta.

And what did Geoff find there? Would it be possible to catch Dylan in the hotel bar after the  show, rubbing elbows with the salt of the earth, and thereby with our Geoff, too?

Well, read on, dear readers …

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Bob Dylan Sings “Love Minus Zero/No Limit”

Here’s a clip from Minnesotan singer-songwriter who has had some success over the years after being born on this very day, May 24th 1941; Bob Dylan. It’s his “Love Minus Zero/No Limit”, a feature from his 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home, and one of his greatest love songs. It may be one of the greatest love songs written by anyone.

Bob Dylan 1965
Photo: dag

In this particular instance, the song was performed, and captured for posterity in D.A Pennebaker’s film Don’t Look Back. The film documented Dylan’s 1965 tour of the UK, as well as Dylan’s rising fame that began to have an impact outside of his folk fanbase. This sequence was filmed in a hotel room with a very engaged audience looking on, knowing perhaps that they were witnessing a historically significant artist during an important phase in his development.

This performance of the song would be noted especially for the presence of Donovan Leitch, an artist who had been touted at the time as something of a British counterpart to Dylan. And it’s clear that the song, along with “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue”,  was performed as a way of showing up the competition by raising the bar. You can see that it worked just by Donovan’s reaction, realizing that he’ll have to work that much harder from that point on.

But, Dylan himself was at something of an artistic crossroads by this time. And if it looks as though he’s bating Donovan (which to be honest, looks pretty evident), Dylan is raising the bar for himself, too, and at a crucial point in his career. Read more

Bob Dylan Sings “Must Be Santa”

Listen to this track from folk music enthusiast and Santa Claus BFF Bob Dylan. It’s “Must Be Santa” a track from his album Christmas In the Heart, released around Christmas time 2009.

On this track, Dylan and his band rock out the popular children’s tune in an accordion-driven jam, the accordion in question actually played by Los Lobos’ David Hildago. The effect is a kind of a zydeco-meets-polka, matched with an exuberant call-and-response vocal exchange.

Is a straight ahead Christmas album kind of an unexpected move from the guy who wrote “Idiot Wind”, “Rainy Day Women 12 & 35”, And “All Along The Watchtower”?

Well, maybe a little.

But, Dylan  has always followed his own path, even from the earliest days of his career. And, the conception of this album and the rendering of the songs on it followed a path that Dylan has always followed anyway.

And which path is that?

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Happy Birthday, Bob Dylan: 10 Cover Versions

Tomorrow, May 24, is Bob Dylan’s birthday!

It’s a milestone year for His Bobness – 70 years old! And still playing to crowds, with no sign of drawing back or retiring. In celebration of his work and life, so far, I thought I’d gather ten quality cover versions of Bob Dylan songs, representing several eras and styles.

The fact that these songs fit so well into the musical milleu of each artist represented here certainly says something about the quality of material. Soul, punk, folk-pop, reggae, and more are represented here, as if the songs were always meant for them. Such is the breadth of Dylan’s influence on other songwriters and performers.

The results of this kind of influence are mixed, of course. Sometimes, you get Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower”, which in turn influenced how Dylan himself approached the song. Sometimes, you get Panic At the Disco’s take on “Desolation Row”, with all of the bluster and none of the poetry.

No matter what the genre or approach or degree of artistic success, Dylan’s influence is a motivating force, with a strength of material that can’t be denied, and with the power to inform and transform the writing of others.

So, without further ado, here’s the list, which is nothing but quality cover versions, kids!

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8 Voices of Bob Dylan

Well, it’s May 24th and time to celebrate the birth of Robert Allen Zimmerman,  AKA Bob Dylan, born this day in Duluth Minnesota in 1941.

It has been said, and I think it’s true, that Dylan is an artistic chameleon, and not bound by any one style or persona.  In reading something of his history, constantly dogged as he was to be a ‘voice of a generation’ with all of the glories and burdens that implies, you might be able to understand why he’d make himself a moving target.

But, what comes out at the other end of this struggle against being pigeonholed has nothing to do with the question of which personal identity we as listeners should consider when thinking about Dylan as an artist.  The pressure placed upon him to fill a role has positively affected his own approach to making music.  After all, the only search for identity that really counts is that one which is conducted by the artist himself.

Apart from his revolutionizing modern songwriting, Bob Dylan still manages to divide rooms over the breadth of his talent. The main sticking point for many?  Well, his voice. Yet, when I hear this complaint, that “I’d rather hear someone else sing his songs – I don’t like his voice”, my reaction in recent years is to wonder which voice they happen to be talking about.  After all, Bob’s used more than one.

And to express that, and to say “Happy Birthday” too, here are eight distinct voices, by my reckoning, that Dylan has employed over his long career.  Here they are.

Voice 1: “The Young Man in Old Man’s Clothes”

When he cut his first two albums in 1962 and 1963 (Bob Dylan, and The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, respectively), Bob was in awe of Woody Guthrie, a man who by that time was hospitalized, and with a rich history of songwriting and political activism behind him.

Young Bob, who collected Guthrie’s songs and visited him in the hospital, was to take up his mantle.  Or, it was certainly expected that he should.  Regardless, Bob’s voice at this time was one of a young man attempting to approximate that history, that world-weariness that is so infused in Guthrie’s work. Recommended listening: “I Was Young When I Left Home”

Voice 2: “The Nasal-Voiced Youth”

By 1964-65, Dylan had been well-established as a ‘topical songwriter’ and a key voice in the civil rights movement. But, he’d also made artistic moves away from his place as a folk-singing social critic, and from a subculture that celebrated the old and dusty as opposed to the less black & white to the more unsettling shades of grey of the modern world.

His songs became less folksy and topical, less about Woody Guthrie’s dustbowl and more in tune with the Beat poets.  It was imagery and the sounds of words that became more important than any message expected from him. And his voice changed, too to that of an adenoidal youth, an embrace of his role as a young man who had the ear of a changing culture.  Recommended Listening: “Gates of Eden”

Voice 3: “The Braying Beatnik”

In 1965, Dylan sang “Maggie’s Farm” at the Newport Festival that year, officially refusing to be the folk music Messiah that everyone hoped he’d be.  A part of this assertion was his embrace of electric rock music, which he applied to his two albums that year, Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited. But when touring England in 1966, playing songs that would eventually appear on the first double album in rock history, he made his arguably most important impact as an artist.

This was done not only by a risk of potentially alienating his folk fan base by going electric with backing band the Hawks, but also by using a new voice that stood without precedent in pop music; a braying, undulating, and oddly cadenced instrument that would make a Dylan impression seemingly as easy as falling off a log by unfunny impersonators at parties.  That is, until he changed again. Recommended Listening: “Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again”

Voice 4: “The Sepia-Toned Parablist”

Living in Woodstock, New York with his wife and two children, and taking refuge there after an exhausting European tour, Dylan took his motorcycle to the repair shop, following the family car. And he crashed. For the next 18 months, rumours abounded on the severity of his injuries, without word from Dylan or his management.

As it happened, it was just the break he needed, recording his 1968 John Wesley Harding album, as well as participating in informal recording sessions as hosted by the former Hawks, re-christened ‘The Band’, which would later be released in part on 1975’s The Basement Tapes.

His voice here is one who is the teller of tales, mythical parables sung, engaged in creating an overall feel to his music that suggested that it came from an older place beyond the reach of the fickle pop charts.  Recommended Listening: “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine”

Voice 5: “The Country Crooner”

By the end of the Sixties, life in Woodstock was becoming more difficult for the Dylans. A former artist’s colony 100 miles outside of New York, it had become too fashionable by half.  Dylan, Van Morrison, the Band, Tim Hardin, and others had made their homes here.  And fans began to converge on the small town, enquiring as to where their heroes may be found.  This created a feeling that a career as a musician and a family man were no longer going to be possible with all of the intrusive idol-worship about.

So, Dylan felt that taking an artistic left turn, once again, was in order.  His answer?  A straight-ahead country record, for one in 1969’s Nashville Skyline.  And later, a collection of half-baked cover songs and fragments put on a double album; 1970’s Self-Portrait.  Was this career suicide? Well, it might have been for another artist.  But, by this time, even Dylan couldn’t camouflage himself for long.

In the meantime, Dylan’s country voice, a low mellifluous tenor no less,  stands as one of his most celebrated artistic choices, even if he’d abandon it soon afterward. Recommended listening: “Lay Lady Lay”.

Voice 6: “The Full-Throated Rock Singer”

In the golden age of the arena show, the early to mid Seventies to be exact, Bob Dylan returned to live shows.  After his 1966 shows, and his motorcycle accident soon after, Dylan hadn’t toured in eight years barring appearances at the Isle of Wight festival and George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh.  But by 1974, he was ready to hit the road again, taking the Band with him.  They cut the live document Before the Flood, and Dylan sang with the gusto of a frontman.

He’d employed a rough-hewn folk-rock voice on cuts like “The Man In Me” on his 1970 New Morning album, on “Knocking On Heaven’s Door” off of the Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid soundtrack, and also on 1974’s Planet Waves (also a record he made with the Band).  But, on this tour, and on the subsequent Rolling Thunder Revue shows in 1975-76, his  balls-out rock voice was in full cry.  Recommended Listening:  “All Along The Watchtower (live)”

Voice 7: “The Elder Statesman”

By the end of the Seventies and into the Eighties, Dylan was decidedly a part of the old guard. He’d divorced from his wife, had overtly embraced Christianity (for a time, at least), and again, changed his voice.   It was his Street Legal album from 1978 that started him on his road to ambitious arrangements, with a voice that became a textured, compact instrument in contrast to this new approach.

Despite being on the outs with modern rock trends, his recording career was as fertile as ever, taking on a smoother, more refined approach to what he wanted in the studio. This period includes what’s known as his ‘gospel’ period, an era which spans 1979’s Slow Train Coming, 1980’s Saved, and 1981’s Shot of Love.

Dylan’s smokey croak of a voice during this period would also span what he himself would call his artistic wilderness.  That is, until he discovered new collaborators, an ancient muse, and yet another voice to sing with.  Recommended Listening: “Blind Willie McTell”.

Voice 8: “The Grizzled  Old Troubadour”

By the early Nineties, with a few misfires behind him, and with two collections of folk song covers, it was thought that Dylan was on his way down and out.  That is until he scored a hit with his 1997 album Time Out of Mind, and later his Oscar-winning song “Things Have Changed”.

The latter half of the decade, and into the Twenty-First Century would prove to be a renaissance for Dylan, a time that seemed ripe for Dylan to step into the role of aged great, figure in fact that mirrored the old folk and blues singers that Dylan himself once worshipped as a young man.

That seems to be how the best musicians operate; they pass the torch along.  And not only would Dylan use this voice of his on his records, he’d also lend his voice to a theme-based radio program appropriately titled Theme Time Radio Hour, which put the folk, pop and R&B of the past in the frame, with sparing references to his contemporaries.  This positioned him as the grand old man of the radio, a dusty-voiced traveler that he’d once imitated as a young man, without the need to imitate any longer.  Recommended Listening: “Ain’t Talkin’ “

China, the Church, Bob Dylan, and the Beatles

If many no longer consider the rock acts of yesteryear, or at least the ones who had their heyday many years ago, to be culturally vital, then the Vatican and the Chinese Ministry of Culture disagree.  It seems that the aura of rock ‘n’ roll danger is alive and well from the perspective of these venerable institutions, with Dylan being denied a live audience in Beijing, and with the generous forgiveness for past sins recently bestowed upon the erstwhile Fab Four by the Catholic Church.  But, what does this mean for the rest of us?  Social observer and music enthusiast Geoff Moore,  you’re on …


Most peculiar, Mama.

Two of the most notorious, insular, and autocratic (and perhaps rotten) institutions on the planet, the Chinese government and the Vatican, remain bemused by rock ‘n’ roll almost 60 years after its birth. Everybody plays the fool in April, but usually just for an hour or two on the first of the month.

News last week that the Chinese ministry of culture has barred Bob Dylan from performing in Beijing and Shanghai and that the Roman Catholic Church has granted the Beatles absolution was confounding, bordering on the bizarre. Had you ever doubted or dismissed the cultural impact of rock ‘n’ roll, here is living -albeit ludicrous- proof that it all mattered and it still does. Amazingly, two giants of the genre, of 20th century music, who hit their heights in the 60s are still provoking certain powers that be. For very different reasons.

In ‘Culture and Art,’ chapter 32 of Mao’s little red book, the Chairman pontificates strictly on literature and art and their places within the “revolutionary machine.” The quotations date from 1942, years before the release of ‘Rocket 88’.  So it comes as no surprise that Beijing’s policy on rock ‘n’ roll is ad hoc: Wham!, yes; the Rolling Stones excepting certain songs, okay; Oasis, no. The Central Committee of the Communist Party of China is working without a manual when it’s forced to address the devil’s music.

At this stage of The Never Ending Tour Dylan is no threat to anybody, the troubadour will turn 69 on May 24th. English-speaking audiences have enough difficulty decoding his lyrics as it is and he never addresses the crowd anyway. And yet, a regime backed by the utterly massive People’s Liberation Army and one which has not hesitated to aim the PLA’s tanks at its own citizens is apparently frightened of Dylan, at least the idea of him and what he and his canon represent.

For some (and still far too many in this day and age) ‘The Chimes of Freedom’ continue to be perceived as a death knell.

A man many consider the founding father of modern science, an astronomer, a physicist and a mathematician, was tried for heresy in 1633, convicted and lived out the last 11 years of his life under house arrest. A sentence considered quite merciful. It took the Church nearly 400 years to come to terms with its relationship with Galileo Galilei and his belief in Copernicanism – a heliocentric solar system.

By Vatican standards, the conundrum of the Beatles’ existence and beliefs was dealt with swiftly. Just 40 years after their snippy dissolution, L’Osservatore Romano, the official organ of the Holy See -think the Chinese Communist Party’s People’s Daily except with content more in line with Pope Benedict XVI’s views- wrote, “It’s true they took drugs, lived life to excess because of their success, even said they were bigger than Jesus and put out mysterious messages, that were possibly Satanic.”

Burn them! No! Forgive them!

“They may not have been the best example for the youth of the day but they were by no means the worst*. Their beautiful melodies changed music and continue to give pleasure.” You cannot help but wonder if this pronouncement prompted most of the 826 citizens of Vatican City to liberate their Beatles remasters from their caches of forbidden materials. And while it’s amusing to imagine a conclave of dusty Cardinals sitting around, inhaling incense and discussing the Beatles (They’re just like us here at the ‘Bin!), who really cares what a gang of cloistered old men think.

The article in L’Osservatore Romano stinks of calculated manipulation and desperation. A hackneyed PR-positive spin on the embattled Holy See for the world’s press; after all, who doesn’t love the four lads from Liverpool? And why not somehow piggyback on that near universal affection?

There are far more urgent and pressing issues on the Vatican’s plate other than the absurd doctrinal rehabilitation of a rock band. Issues that are bigger than the Beatles. Which means, if you mash up the arguments of John Lennon and Saint Anselm of Canterbury, the continuing exposure of institutionalized and ritualized sexual abuse within the Catholic Church is, right now, bigger than Jesus in the minds of us all.

Strange days, indeed.

(*This means you, Keith Richards…)


Geoff Moore is an author of books – real ones that you can buy in a store. He resides in Calgary Alberta where he observes culture and then writes about it.  He would stand in front of a tank, if called upon –  provided there was beer after.